Talk about Moral Failure
The woman says, “Give me this water.”
You would think Jesus would immediately lead her to pray a prayer of repentance and receiving him as Lord. But instead Jesus replies, “Go, call your husband and come back.” He actually sends her away before she has tasted the living water.
Jesus is not reticent to send people away with his questions and his answers. He sent away the rich young ruler with “One thing you lack…” He sent away the crowds with, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).
Jesus is laying out the cost of discipleship for this particular person. “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Why, then, does Jesus ask her to call her husband? How is this information relevant to her being a disciple, receiving living water? The question identifies the cost of following Jesus for her and us.
He is uncovering something in her life that must be acknowledged before she can have this living water.
It’s the go before the gift.
This woman can justify her history.
- Economic sustenance: She has gone to a succession of men for her living. She patches together her life from the favors and benefits of men.
- Self-worth: she has to have a man in her life to know that she is worth something. Men, you see, will take her into their beds. It’s the only way a girl can really make it in this world.
- She is exercising girl power:
I asked Christi one day why the dancers in the strip clubs would continue in that lifestyle. Many of them stay even when they know how self-destructive it is. And her answer was, “They enjoy the power.” The strippers exercise a power over their clients. The life and culture of the club revolves around them—these young girls in difficult financial straits, fighting addictions and desperation.
- She is in search mode. This is the real explanation. She has typed in “love,” and she’s giving it a google with her very life. She is looking for the answer, the reason for everything. And she’s looking for it, as the song says, “in all the wrong places.”
Her marital status is so relevant and significant to her and to her understanding of herself that Jesus cannot proceed with the conversation until it is placed on the well between them.
- She must integrate her knowledge of Jesus with her true knowledge of herself. This includes acknowledging and facing fully her failure to keep the commandments of God.
- Faith is “entrusting what I know of myself to what I know of God.” She is learning that God loves her as she speaks with this Hebrew man by the well. But she must also learn that God loves her fully even though she is truly, really, a sinner.
- We cannot be rescued by God’s grace until we realize that we are hopelessly lost, separated from God, and unable to save ourselves.
The Apostle Paul described himself as the chief of sinners. I think this is where we all have to get, finally. We must lay aside our admiration of ourselves, our delusions about ourselves, the lies we tell ourselves, and the rationalizations and justifications we live in so that we can tolerate our own behavior. And we must squarely face the truth—we are the chief of sinners.
The witness is on a need to know basis.
- So, what is really going on with this woman? Has she been widowed five times? Is she unable to bear children? Is she promiscuous? Is she damaged goods? Has she been rejecting men or having they been rejecting her?
- Why is she now hooking up with someone to whom she is not married? Has she given up on marriage? Who is this fellow whom she now lives with? Will he actually come if she goes to get him. Does she want Jesus to meet him?
- We have a thousand questions about the woman at the well. But we don’t need to know any of the answers. Jesus knows. The woman knows. That is all that matters.
- And that is the same with the person with whom you share your faith in Christ. You do not have to know all about their past or their present. The Holy Spirit knows. They themselves know. You place their past on the well when you quote Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” You ask them, “Do you know that you are a sinner?”
Jesus is able to put his finger on the very place that represents her deepest failure, her most troubling reality.
The Holy Spirit of God does this very thing when you open up the conversation to the reality of sin in a person’s life. Their mind immediately goes, not to the place where you think it will, but to the place that you can know nothing about—the point of their greatest moral failure.
It’s the hurt before the help.
The human heart has got to open up all the way for Jesus to come in. You cannot simply crack the door and open to the length of the chain. You cannot receive him through the screen door. You must open up the door. You must let Jesus come into your house—into your inner life.
The living water is in the holy of holies—the very center of the sanctuary, the place where the mercy seat resides. You go through the outer court to get there. You go through the curtain into the Holy Place. And then you part the curtain to enter the Holy of Holies with fear and trembling.
You have a Holy of Holies in your life. It is the very center of who you are. You know it well. People who know you best sometimes get a glimpse of this very center of who you are. You let them in to some degree.
But Jesus must come in all the way. You’ve got to pull the curtain back and allow him to see your house, the inner you, the sinner you, all the way to the very center. You must acknowledge what is inside of you, the condition of the inner you. You must allow him to deal with that part of you that is most secret, most hidden, from all but you.
That Holy of Holies, the very center of who you are, that is where the living water becomes an artesian well. He sets the living water flowing from the center of your heart.
My father had open heart surgery. He lived for 11 years afterward. I think it was a psychological problem for him until his death. He told me how he could feel his ribcage moving in a way it hadn’t moved before, right where they broke it open to get to his heart. I think it reminded him of his mortality—that a surgeon had gone to very center of his physical body in order to save him. It reminded him of how diseased his heart was and how close to death it brought him.
Jesus is the heart surgeon of the inner you, The sinner you. Your spiritual heart is diseased. Jesus can give you a new one. But you have got to let him cut open that ribcage that has always protected your deepest secrets. He needs full access to the inner you, or you cannot be rescued. You will die in your sins.
It’s the gift beyond our grasp.
Jesus Christ died on the cross and descended into the grave. He took upon himself all the sin of the world, including yours. He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. And he carried the sacrifice of himself to the very heart of God, to the Holy of Holies in heaven.
He restored all that we lost through our sin because he shouldered all that was ugly and broken about us.
When you pull back the curtain of your heart and reveal its deepest secrets to Jesus, you can be assured of this one thing—he already knew what was in there. And he loves you anyway.
Jesus knowing and still caring —that is the miracle that this woman at the well experiences. Jesus started this conversation with her. She didn’t know that he knew. Jesus asked her for a drink. She didn’t understand how fully he knew her. Jesus offered her living water, a bubbling spring inside of her that would provide for her eternal life.
- All along Jesus knew her fully, knew her inner life.
- But this was the very life that she had not revealed to any stranger ever. This was the life that no one had ever seen.
- And Jesus knew it all along—and still loved her.
There was a harlot, a prostitute, in Jericho named Rahab. She came to believe that the God of the Hebrews was the one true God. When the Hebrew spies were threatened, she took them into her house and hid them. She compromised forever her position with the people of her city. The walls of Jericho fell. The Hebrews stormed in and took the city. And when they came to Rahab’s house, they stopped the destruction, and her house was left standing.
Rahab was the great-great-great-great grandmother of Jesus, the man sitting by the well. He had another great-great grandmother, Tamar, who played the part of a prostitute and got pregnant through incest. And another great-great grandmother, Ruth, who wasn’t even a Hebrew but a foreigner. And yet another, Bathsheba, who had a scandalous affair with the king. Indeed, Jesus’ own mother, Mary, was pregnant without a husband and thought by all the townspeople to be a fornicator.
God has a long history of loving troubled souls.